The Tokyo Summer Olympics opening ceremony director was sacked after footage from a 1998 comedy sketch showed he was making an anti-Semitic Holocaust joke.
Kentaro Kobayashi was relieved of his post just the day before the opening ceremony of the Summer Games in Japan.
The organizing committee issued a statement confirming Kobayashi’s departure. The creative director was removed from his office “after a joke he made in the past about a painful historical event came to light.”
“In the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony, we sincerely apologize for any offense and fear this matter may have caused to the many people involved in the Olympics, as well as to the citizens of Japan and the world,” it said Committee.
Kobayashi, known for his work as a comedian, actor, and theater director, appeared in 1998 as part of the comedy duo Frame. During a skit, Kobayashi and Jin Katagiri parodied hosts for an educational program for children. Kobayashi referred to some paper doll cutouts, describing them as “the ones from the time you said let’s play the Holocaust,” according to the AFP news agency.
His comments were met with laughter by the audience.
The footage was shared online and condemned by Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who described the comments as “outrageous and unacceptable”.
Kobayashi apologized on the local news, “I’m in the business of entertaining people. It should never be the case that I make people uncomfortable. I understand that my foolish choice of words was a mistake then, and I regret it. “
His departure comes days after one of the event’s composers, Keigo Oyamada, offered to resign when an old magazine interview resurfaced in which he admitted bulling other children at school, including a classmate with learning difficulties.
The committee described Oyamada’s actions as “absolutely unacceptable”. A four-minute excerpt from the show, in which his music was to be played, has now been cut.
There is no confirmation of how Kobayashi’s departure will affect the program or whether changes can be expected to minimize his contribution.
The opening ceremony marks the start of the Olympic Games and is typically a high production value show that highlights the cultural wonders of the host nation and sets the tone for fortnight of athletic excellence.
This year’s show is set to be a more subdued affair, reports Reuters. The games postponed by the pandemic were thrown challenge after challenge, with several athletes testing positive for COVID and Tokyo reporting rising case numbers.